Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2560 , published on May 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

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Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.

The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”

Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.

Such a qualification would also send a clear message to the State Department and the U.S.  Agency for International Development on where to focus assistance funding and contract projects. Equally important, it would show that the U.S. is as serious about eliminating this threat as they were when they decided to add Colombia’s FARC to their terrorist list. It also would set the record straight that providing weapons to these organized crime groups is punishable in the same way that it  is to establish business transactions with terrorists.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management—who introduced legislation to Congress on March 30 calling for the government to label six Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations—stated that the decision to keep the cartels off the list is a sign of shortsightedness. His response: “The drug cartels are here. The Department of Homeland Security reports that they operate in 276 cities inside the U.S. Only after the murder of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent Jaime Zapata were 450 cartel members arrested in this country.” The cartel’s transactions are simple: they sell the drugs to U.S. users and buy the weapons to bring back into Mexico and service their bloody exchanges with Mexican federal and state police/military forces.

A reliable source from the intelligence community in Mexico, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, volunteered that even after Calderón’s attempts to strengthen military presence at the border, more than 10,000 artillery pieces (automatic weapons and grenades mostly) make their way into Mexico from the U.S. every day. The result? Our forces keep trading bullets with the cartels but the U.S. consumers continue to provide them cash flow and the gun sellers operating in the United States continue to arm them.

Nearly a year ago, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed President Calderón, who then said we needed joint, committed efforts to deal with the drug trafficking issue. Mexico has shown it is ready today but with elections coming in 2012, the resolve shown by Calderón might not remain after the dust has settled.

The window of opportunity could be closing and it’s time for our partner to the north to act, for both our sakes.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Drone flights over Mexico

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Drone flights over Mexico”

http://americasquarterly.org/node/2356 , published on March 31st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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The recent news published by The New York Times on unmanned drone planes doing reconnaissance flights over Mexican territory has already spurred aggressive reactions by the legislative opposition to Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, or PAN). Practically in unison, civil society is responding to these reactions and sending a message to Congress: get your head out of the gutter and do something for our country.

The Times article stated that Calderón and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed earlier this month to continue allowing surveillance flights over Mexico, collecting information and turning it over to Mexican law enforcement authorities. The report also discusses a “counternarcotics fusion center” already operational in Mexico City and the possibility of a second one being established in the near future.

Gearing up for federal elections, political parties like Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD), Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI) and Partido del Trabajo (Labor Party, or PT) jumped at the opportunity to accuse Calderón of violating Mexican law by allowing drone flights.

Former Foreign Minister—and current PRI Senator—Rosario Green was one of the more vocal: “I find it barbaric… What else is Calderón going to do in order to hand over the reins of the country to foreign interests?” PRD Senator Ricardo Monreal added: “This violates the Constitution, our national sovereignty and quite simply submits the country to a state of indignation, a subordinate and defeatist attitude.”

What is most interesting about this story is not the questionable legality of the secret agreement, but the public’s reaction to the opposition’s accusations. Rather than further taint Calderón’s image, readers of online newspapers like El Norte and Reforma have responded to these types of remarks with disgust. Civil society has demanded that politicians stop wasting the country’s time and resources in party politics and start instituting viable solutions to the widespread gang violence and narcotics problems.

Select reader comments of these online dailies include: “I would rather have Calderón hand over Mexico to the U.S. than PRI hand it over to the drug lords”; “National sovereignty being violated? What do you think the drug cartels have been doing for the past two years? The enemy is inside our home. You should worry about that”; and “Calderón’s is a brave decision aiming to weaken the filth that hurts real citizens and not the thieves that hide behind a Congress seat.”

Although Senator Green may ask why the Mexican Congress was not consulted on the Calderón-Obama agreement, I suggest she look into the way that she and her colleagues vote—not any way in representing their constituencies but rather moved by political objectives. And when Senator Monreal talks about “a state of indignation,” he conveniently forgets the ongoing investigations of his alleged money laundering scheme in 2006 and alleged ties to mafia groups.

The message is clear. Civil society is tired of the political discussions. They are tired of excuses and debates on whether or not a bold solution to an even bolder problem is constitutional. Instead of facing accusations, the action of Calderón and Obama—if proven to be true—should be hailed as a symbol of bilateral cooperation toward combating a common foe which has tarnished the Mexican way of life.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.